I’ve developed a bit of a reputation: I like to communicate. Some people might even think I communicate too much… but it’s my natural tendency, and I think it helps make me an effective project manager, so at least I’m using my strengths wisely.
Nearly every job posting lists it as one of their “preferred qualifications”: Good communication skills. What exactly does that mean? That answer is probably a bit different in every industry, and communication style varies from person to person, but there are a few basic tenets that life (and many years of experience) have taught me and which will make your working relationships so much more smooth.
Some of my examples are specific to my industry of theater & production, but I think the points are easily transferable to almost any field.
I don’t consider myself a writer, but I write A LOT of emails… I like email because it provides a written record that is so easy to refer back to, and if people don’t all remember things quite the same way, everyone can refer to the email and put an end to speculation and hearsay.
When writing emails, I believe the approach is important. Without the face-to-face contact, it can be difficult to not sound like you’re dictating orders, but it sometimes helps maintain a team dynamic if you form thoughts into questions instead of statements. Often, all the parties already know the answer, but try letting someone respond with what action they think they should take, instead of telling them.
Be concise in the wording of your emails. Share enough information that everyone can have a clear understanding of what you’re talking about, but don’t muck up the message with lots of hypotheticals or “maybe”s. Explain what you need to explain, or clearly discuss what needs to happen, then move on.
Respond to emails in a timely manner. I really try to respond within 48 hours, maximum. A lot of stuff is time-sensitive, and you don’t need to be the one holding up the process for no good reason. Even if you can’t fully answer someone’s questions, at least give them the courtesy of letting them know you’re working on the answers and will get back to them soon (AND THEN ACTUALLY GET BACK TO THEM SOON).
Include all affected people/departments when writing an email. I know that no one likes to get extra email that doesn’t pertain to them, but I’ve found it’s better to be safe than sorry when making sure everyone stays in the loop. SO many misunderstandings and delays can be avoided if everyone impacted by a decision gets looped in from the very beginning of an issue.
Along that same line of thought, I frequently send an email to multiple people and then one of them replies only to me. There was a reason that I included a group of people in the original email. I recommend if you get an email you reply to all parties. When you don’t I then need to send another email to share what that person shared only to me, so that all the affected parties stay informed.
In the world of theater, the stage manager usually sends out nightly rehearsal reports via email. The idea is to keep every department (scenic design, lighting design, costumes, shop/construction, props, director, artistic director, etc.) informed about challenges, problems, blips that are occurring throughout the process. Questions or issues that affect one department inevitably affect other departments more than we might realize, so when we all “reply all,” then everybody can stay in touch and move forward much more effectively. I find this highly effective in communicating the needs of a production. I often am working on multiple productions and this is a great system that keeps me on track.
If you have a phone or face-to-face conversation with one team member, make it a habit to follow up with an email restating what was agreed upon, and copy it to the entire team so everyone knows. Try to avoid pocket conversations that leave someone out. Trust me, it’ll save on frustrations or misunderstandings in the long run.
Whatever the situation, we are all on the same team… and oftentimes there are compromises that can be reached with open honest dialogue. Voice the challenges. Work together on solutions, and we’ll all come out smarter and happier in the end.
Let me share two cool tools that I use for making my email communication even more productive: Mailtrack and Boomerang. They are both add-ons for Gmail that you can download and use free (with some limitations). Mailtrack lets me know when (or if) a recipient has opened my email. No claiming that you didn’t see it, ok? I can tell. Boomerang does lots of nifty stuff: it lets me schedule when my emails get sent (Am I really working at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday? You’ll never know!), it can remind me to follow up on an email if no one responds to it within a certain timeframe of my choosing, and if I am really busy and start to receive emails that are distracting me from my current tasks, I can “snooze” those emails to come back into my Inbox a little later on. I use the scheduling feature the most.
I hope these communication tips are helpful for someone — or at the very least, some of you might understand why you receive so many emails from me. :) Send one back to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Need a break from your email overload? Take a few minutes to browse my Portfolio.